Wednesday, December 18, 2013


         We are those who feared the encroaching darkness. 
Was there a time I have wondered, imagined, that we did not know/were not sure/did not assume that light would return, that days would grow longer? At least not return by itself,  without our intercession. What would it take to bring back the light? Sacrifice? Of an animal, a human? Would prayers and chanting and ceremony bring back the light?  
Did you know that Stonehenge is aligned on a sight-line toward sunrise and sunset on the day of Winter Solstice?

        What did winter mean during the Neolithic? 

During early periods of farming and herding in the Northern Hemisphere? It meant that communities might not survive winter. Starvation might occur. Cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed when snow covered fodder.

          Yet, we humans in the North celebrated Solstice. Though some meat was preserved, fresh meat was available. The fermenting of beer and wine that began in late summer was now complete. The deciduous trees were bare, but the great firs stood green and alive. The Sun God, they realized,  was about to be reborn, and so it was the time of the last great feast of the year.

        And so we still celebrate, though the myth has shifted for some and been forgotten by others, and the event has been monetized. We bring light into the world at the darkest time, and we rediscover giving and charity and some of our best human impulses.  And we hope - keep hoping - that those impulses will remain with us.

So I wish you light and love and a generosity of spirit!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Feeling of Well-Being

All photos by Bill Fulton
        I want to tell you about Groningen, in the Netherlands, but this is not a travelogue. Bill and I didn’t come here as tourists, but to be with our friends. I want to write about how a place can hold you, in both senses of that word. But first I’ll describe this small city.

      The old town is surrounded by a canal, and it is self- contained and self-providing - no need to drive elsewhere for what you need. You can walk everywhere, and though cars are allowed in the city, the only traffic to worry about are streams of bicyclists.There is a central marketplace for Tuesday & Friday Market, shops, cafes, restaurants, a university, movie theater, concert hall and three museums.

     Groningen gifts you with a lovingly cared for aesthetic. It is charming and accessible - we circumnavigated in 45 minutes - and there are beautiful old sailing barges docked along the canal. Nights are softly lit, and light sparkles the dark water of the canal. 

     But I have been in charming places that did not create the sense of well-being that we experienced.  I think that comfort comes from an integration of mind/ heart/ body that I usually only experience in nature, not in cities, and I think there are several reasons for this.

     The first involves the proportions of this small city, and the harmony of the architecture. The buildings are on a human scale - most are no more than 5 stories, and most are in the style of Dutch architecture of the 17th century.The harmony of the buildings comes from their related styles.

         Another source of well-being is the relative quiet. No rush of traffic, trucks honking, jackhammers yammering - an absence of noise pollution. The sound of church bells is as natural to this town as birdsong in a forest, and the Dutch do not walk down the street yelling into their cellphones. 
      And there is what happens to your body, to your psyche when there is no possible threat. Our first night we left our friend’s house at 11. At first I was anxious, as I am here at home, walking on dark streets at night - then I realized we were perfectly safe. We walked slowly back to our apartment through narrow streets and unlighted alleyways, free to enjoy the moon, the shadows dancing on the water, and the holiday lights.
The lighted church towers become landmarks, so you always know where you are.

No gun-waving or knife-brandishing mugger would appear as they have twice in  my own city.

        When you can relax, without having to be vigilant or on guard, you can be open, and of course when you are open you can be more loving and caring and creative, as we  discover again and again.

        Groningen is a soulful city. It's as though the river spirits and the spirits of all the shipbuilders, the captains and sailors who navigated the canals and rivers to the sea watch over it.

       Now I know who you are, dear readers. You do not need a long lecture on the contrasts between what I have described and life in American cities, or the statistics on what stress and a lack of a feeling of well-being do to us - and how much we spend on things and therapies to make it go away. 

       I will simply end by saying that Groningen reminded me of how cities once held us, and it taught me how adaptable we humans try to be and what we are willing to put up with
when we are not being held,